Difference between revisions of "Edinburgh"
Revision as of 14:16, 28 October 2008
Edinburgh (Gaelic: Dùn Èideann; ) is the capital of Scotland located in the Central Belt region of the country. With a population of approximately 450,000 (1 million in the city region), "Auld Reekie" (Edinburgh) manages to combine both ancient and modern in a uniquely Scottish atmosphere. Watched over by the imposing castle - the symbol of the city - Edinburgh combines medieval relics, Georgian grandeur and a powerful layer of modern life with contemporary avant-garde. In Edinburgh, medieval palaces rub shoulders with the best of modern architecture, Gothic churches with amazing museums and galleries. Scotland's throbbing night-life centre, Edinburgh - "the Athens of the North" is also a feast for the mind and the senses, playing host to great restaurants, shops and an unequaled programme of city festivals throughout the year. Hogmanay - the Scottish New Year - kicks off the festivities, which culminate in the high summer with the Tattoo, the International and the Fringe, amongst many others.
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1995. In 2005, the whole city was recognised as the World's first City of Literature as part of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative.
Edinburgh is located on the east coast of Scotland's central Lowlands, situated on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh's landscape is the product of ancient volcanism (both the Castle crag and Arthur's Seat are the eroded plugs of volcanoes) and more recent glaciation (carving out valleys south of the castle and the old Nor'Loch, presently the site of the Princes Street Gardens). Impress the locals by knowing that Princes Street is the correct spelling (dedicated plurally and not possessively for King George III's sons - hence the absence of an apostrophe). Don't make the mistake of pronouncing it Princess Street - though many of the locals won't know the difference! And watch out for these two commonly mis-pronounced streets as well: Cockburn (coe-burn) and Buccleuch (buh-clue) are nearly always gotten wrong, to the amusement of the locals.
Edinburgh's historic center is bisected by Princes Street Gardens, a broad swathe of parkland in the heart of city. Southwards of the gardens is the castle, perched on top of an extinct volcanic crag, and flanked by the medieval streets of the Old Town following the Royal Mile along the ridge to the east. To the north of Princes Street Gardens lies Princes Street itself - Edinburgh's main shopping boulevard - and the Georgian period New Town, built after 1766 on a regular grid plan.
Edinburgh has been the royal capital of Scotland since 1437.
Edinburgh is noted as a long-lived literary capital of the English-speaking world.
The great Scottish historical novelist Sir Walter Scott was born in the city and has his great monument on Princes Street. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also a native of Edinburgh.
More recently, Edinburgh has variously been the home and inspiration for such well-known modern writers as Muriel Spark (author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Irvine Welsh (author of the 1993 novel Trainspotting, set in the gritty district of Leith), Ian Rankin (a crime writer best known for the Inspector Rebus series, set in Edinburgh), Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Lady Detective's Agency and several novels set in the Scottish capital) and J.K Rowling of Harry Potter fame.
Edinburgh's climate is most comfortable for the traveler from May to September. That said, the weather in Edinburgh is always changeable and visitors should expect both sunshine and rain, whatever the season. Summer, the main festival season, combines long daylight hours with lengthy evenings (being so far north, it rarely gets dark before 10 or 11 at night!). Winter can be bitterly cold, with short daylight hours, but Edinburgh has an abundance of indoor attractions and activities that make the cold winter days fly by.
When to go
Travellers should note that Edinburgh becomes overwhelmingly crowded (accommodation-wise) during the main festival periods of high summer (August to early September) and Hogmanay (around New Year's Day / 1 January). Visitors at these times should plan well ahead (even more than a year in advance!) for booking central accommodation and event tickets at these times.
Edinburgh International Airport (EDI) , is situated some 10 miles west of the city. The airport offers a wide range of domestic and international flights to Europe and North America. Many visitors to the city arrive via a connecting flight from London. Edinburgh Airport does, however, have a daily flight to and from Newark (Continental Airlines), a short drive from New York City and also a daily flight to and from Atlanta, Georgia and New York (Delta Air Lines). In comparison to most Scottish airports, Edinburgh's European flight network is well developed, with frequent scheduled flights to destinations such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris, Warsaw and Zurich.
A dedicated airport bus service, Airlink Express , service 100, runs from outside the terminal building to Edinburgh city center (Waverley Bridge) at least every 10 minutes until 00.22 and then every 30 minutes until 04.45. The bus leaves from Waverley Bridge (opposite entrance to train station) for the Airport at the same intervals 24/7. Adult fares are £3 for a single, £5 for an open return and the journey takes an average 25 mins.
A cheaper alternative is the ordinary Lothian Buses number thirty five, which runs from the bus stance outside the arrivals building to Ocean Terminal via the Royal Mile/High Street. Although slower, and with less provision for baggage than the 100, it is far cheaper at £1.10 single, and also allows the use of day tickets and other options that work on all Lothian Buses services - a great option for getting straight to the city if travelling light, or on a budget.
The main railway station in Edinburgh is called Waverley Railway Station  and is an attraction in itself. First opened in 1846, Waverley Station was rebuilt 1892-1902. It lies between the old town and modern Edinburgh, adjacent to Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle and the Princes Street Gardens, where it serves over 14 million people per annum. Despite various refurbishments, the past still survives in the station's elaborate, domed ceiling where wreathed cherubs leap amid a wealth of scrolled ironwork.
The "charged by the piece" left luggage service at Waverley railway station is much more expensive than the lockers a few blocks away at the Edinburgh Bus station on St. Andrew's Square.
Waverley Station is a major hub for the Scottish rail network, operated by First Scotrail . There is an hourly service to Aberdeen, and two hourly to Inverness. Shuttle trains to Glasgow (Queen Street) run every 15 minutes throughout the day, dropping to 30 minutes on evenings and Sundays, and the journey takes 45-50 minutes. Some services run to Glasgow Central instead, but run via Lanarkshire with many more stops. Certain National Express East Coast trains originating from London also continue to Glasgow Central - again your ticket will be valid on these services but the journey will take slightly longer than the shuttle.
The vast majority of train services to Edinburgh from London (and most of eastern England) are operated by National Express East Coast (which replaced GNER in December 2007) ; an hourly service leaves from London Kings Cross station throughout the day until 6PM. Journey time is between 4hrs 20min and 5 hours. The cheapest tickets are for a fixed train time bought 2-8 weeks in advance, and the flexible Saver Ticket is not valid at some times to/from London. Virgin Trains  operate a once daily service from London Euston via the West Coast route but at a much slower journey time of 5 hrs 20 mins.
For a different travel experience from London, try the Caledonian Sleeper service , which runs every night from London's Euston Station except Saturdays, and the journey takes approximately 8 hours. Bear in mind that if you are travelling alone you may have to share the sleeping compartment with a stranger of the same sex. Tickets can be booked in the usual manner at any main line railway station in Britain, and the cost of a return journey to Edinburgh from London varies from around £100 for two one-way "Advance" tickets rising to the full open return fare of £165. You can also travel for around £23 one-way in a seated carriage or £95 return (full fare). BritRail passes can be used to reserve tickets on the sleeper trains.
However, heavily discounted one-way tickets on the Caledonian Sleeper known as "Bargain Berths" are available for £19, £29, £39 or £49 depending on how early you book, but confusingly these cannot be bought from a railway station in the normal way - they can only be purchased from the First ScotRail website and you will be emailed an e-ticket (similar to an airline) which you must print out and show to the conductor at the platform before getting on the train.
Trains to other English cities are operated by Arriva Cross Country (services via York, Birmingham and central England to the south coast and West Country) and Trans-Pennine Express (services to Manchester via Carlisle) from Waverley.
There is a second railway station in the center of Edinburgh, Haymarket, which is around a mile to the west of Waverley. If you are arriving from the north, west or south-west, Haymarket is a better station to exit at if you are heading straight for the airport, zoo, or modern art gallery, or if your accommodation is on the west side of town, as you will avoid the city center traffic and it is on the major west-bound bus routes.
Both Waverley and Haymarket stations had ticket barriers installed in 2004 so you will need to purchase a ticket in order to enter or leave the platform area. If you get on a train at an unmanned station you can purchase a ticket from the conductor on the train, or from a ticket inspector near the barrier gates - there is usually a long queue during the peak rush hour period. The barrier gates will retain single journey tickets, so be sure to get a receipt if you need one. If you have the larger kind of ticket that does not fit in the barrier you will need to go to the gate which is manned by a member of staff who will check your ticket and let you through. If you do not have a ticket, you will need to go to the ticket office behind the barrier (platform 14 at Waverley) to buy one.
Edinburgh Park is a new train station that opened in 2004, which is some miles from the city center, serves business parks and "The Gyle" shopping center. It should be noted that direct trains from Glasgow do not call at this station. You must either change in Linlithgow or, travel past Edinburgh Park and change at Haymarket to double back, on a train bound for Dunblane or Bathgate.
By road, Edinburgh can be reached most immediately from the M8 (west from Glasgow), M9 (north-west from Stirling), A90/M90 (north from Perth and Dundee), the A1 (south-east from Newcastle upon Tyne and north-east England) and A701/M74 (south-west from Carlisle and north-western England).
From London the fastest route to Edinburgh is the M1 motorway, followed by the A1(M) and the A1 - a journey of 398 miles and approximately 8-9 hrs driving time.
Edinburgh is not a particularly car friendly city with the myriad of one-way streets and the Old Town's medieval layout, and the dedication of parking wardens to ticketing anything that is not moving is legendary. In addition, the works to install the new tram line will be ongoing until 2011, and have caused numerous road closures and diversions throughout the City Centre and Leith. Finding parking can be difficult, though there are several multi-story car parks in the city center (Castle Terrace for the West End, try St James Center at the East End (access from York Place). It is often cheaper and quicker to use the new Park and Ride systems now in place on all approaches to the City, (National Park and Ride Directory is available online ), so it's even easy to just abandon your car on the outskirts. For visitors arriving from the M8, follow directions for Edinburgh Airport to reach Ingliston Park and Ride; this facility is half a mile from the airport terminal.
The city is served by the major inter-city bus companies from around Scotland and England. Most long distance services start and end in the Bus Station in St Andrew Square. The left luggage lockers at the Bus station are much cheaper than the "charged by the piece" left luggage service at Waverly train station.
Edinburgh is a compact city - most of the sights and major tourist attractions are within the Old Town and New Town and are no further than a 15 minute walk apart. Walking along elegant or atmospheric streets is one of the pleasures of the city. There are however, a number of hills to be navigated; for example from Princes Street, up The Mound towards Edinburgh Castle requires some significant legwork, but it's worth it for the views en route.
The city's public transport system is relatively poor next to London and other major British cities - being heavily reliant on buses, which have to navigate the city's sometimes bustling traffic. Congestion charging similar to that found in the English capital has been proposed but was defeated at a referendum. Equally, the suburban railway network is very sparse compared to that of Glasgow, although there have been some slow and steady improvements over the years with work now begun on a tram system linking the city centre to Leith and to the airport. The tram line is due to open in 2011.
Lothian are the larger operator in the city itself whose distinctive burgundy and cream colored buses had become as much a symbol of Edinburgh as its buildings. For some reason Lothian see this as a negative and have decided to change their livery. Many older buses still carry the old livery but more and more have the new colours which are predominantly white, with red and gold rhombuses of different sizes along the sides. Single tickets are £1.10 and are only valid for one journey (ie if you have to change bus you have to buy another £1.10 ticket!). Bear in mind that bus drivers will not give change, so save up those £1 and 10p coins. Some busy stops on main routes have red ticket machines, which sell single tickets for £1, as well as day tickets (no discount). The machines don't give change either.
Lothian offer an all-day ticket for £2.50 (as of September 07) that covers all transport (except sight-seeing, airport express and night services). The all-day ticket is a great way to see the city without the expense of the tour buses, as you can get on and off all Lothian buses for the whole day!
Lothian are in the process of rolling out their BusTracker service. This provides "real time" bus service information. Electronic signs are being installed along major routes, showing the wait time for the next bus on each service at that stop. Online, it's possible to view the information for every bus stop in the city, not just those stops with electronic signs. Every stop has a unique 8 figure code, which are listed on the website and also displayed at the stop. You can access Bus Tracker via a mobile phone at mobile.mybustracker.co.uk.
First buses service areas to the east and west of the city.
There are also at least three companies that operate sightseeing buses. All have a policy that a sightseeing ticket is valid for 24 hours, so you can get around central Edinburgh quite handily using the sightseeing buses. Each sightseeing bus follows a different route around the city, but they all start and finish at Waverley Bridge, adjacent to Waverley Station on Princes Street.
It can be useful to catch a bus down to the port area of Leith.
A small number of suburban rail routes run from Waverley station, most of the stations lying in the south west and south east suburbs of the city, and are useful for reaching the outer suburbs and towns of Balerno, Currie, Wester Hailes, Portobello, Prestonpans, Musselburgh and a useful link to Edinburgh Park which is adjacent to the Gyle shopping complex. Services to North Berwick, Bathgate or Glasgow Central will make stops at these various stations. Note that standard National Rail fares apply to these trains - there are no credible daily season ticket options available. Check at the station before you board!
The "charged by the piece" left luggage service at Waverly train station is far more expensive than the storage lockers a few blocks away at the Bus station on St Andrew's square.
Central Edinburgh is a nightmare to drive in, particularly the Old Town with its tangle of medieval streets with their associated one way systems. The New Town fares slightly better, but the scourge of the city is the infamous parking attendants, locally known as "Blue Meanies" who mercilessly swoop on vehicles which may have only been illegally parked for a matter of minutes. Parking fines are £40 and vehicles parked in an obstructive manner are liable to be towed away with a £150 release fee to be paid for its retrieval. Even the suburbs (especially Morningside, The Grange, The Meadows) have little parking available. Take a bus and/or walk. Leith seems to fare a bit better for parking, but there's no guarantee. Park and Ride facilities provide access to the city center
Edinburgh is a beautiful city that's full of history. There is no better way to see it than to walk.
There is a single tram line currently being built in Edinburgh that will link Leith on the east to Edinburgh Airport on the west, passing through the New Town in the city centre. This is due to be finished by 2011. As it will link the airport, zoo, both main train stations, the New Town, Leith and the Cruise Liner terminal it will undoubtedly be very helpful for visitors to the city.
Like most major British cities, Edinburgh offers a choice between Black Cabs, carrying up to 5 passengers, which can be hailed on the street, and minicabs, which must be pre-booked. Black cabs display an orange light above the windscreen to indicate that they are available to hire. It's usually quite easy to find a cab in and around the city centre, and on the main radial routes running out of the centre. There are also Taxi Ranks dotted around the city, where black cabs will line up to be hired. Taxi Rank locations include:
The main taxi firms operating within the city are:
For the budget-conscious and/or avid sightseer, the Edinburgh Pass  is well worth bearing in mind, offering a maximum of £155 worth of entry to 27 of Edinburgh's top attractions, a 90-page guidebook, retail and restaurant offers and discounts. All this, as well as free public transport around the city and airport transfers. A one-day pass costs £24, two days £36, three days £48. Can be purchased online or at Tourist Information Centers.
Museum and Galleries
Refer to the district articles for listings.
Edinburgh in the summer becomes "festival city" when a huge number of major national and international arts festivals are hosted by the city. Most of these occur virtually simultaneously in August. These cater for a wide variety of interests and include:
One important thing to decide when planning a trip to Edinburgh is whether you wish to go at festival time, which runs from early August through to mid-September. Hotel rooms in and around the city are noticeably much more expensive then, and you will need to book well (at least six months!) in advance.
Edinburgh in the winter festive season is also huge: whole sections of central Edinburgh are roped off and accessible only by ticket for the Scottish New Year Celebrations known as Hogmanay , of which the Edinburgh Hogmanay is easily the largest in Scotland.
Edinburgh is host to a number of higher and further education organisations including:
Edinburgh is also a popular destination for language students, looking to learn English, or build on their existing English language skills. Most schools offer a "homestay" option where accommodation is with a local family, which can be a great introduction to Scottish life. Language schools in the city include:
Refer to individual district articles for detailed listings.
Edinburgh is a great city for the food lover. There is a vast selection of eateries scattered throughout every part of the city, catering for all tastes, prices and styles. Refer to the District articles for individual listings.
As well as the centre of Edinburgh, it is also worth checking out Leith and the West End when looking for a place to eat.
Rose St, running parallel to Princes St is a pedestrian precinct that has a huge number of pubs offering a variety of pub fare food.
And if you're up to it, be sure to drop by a chippy (fish and chip shop) and experience such Scottish delights as deep fried pizza, deep fried hamburgers, deep fried Black Pudding (a type of blood sausage), deep fried haggis and deep fried Mars bars. Edinburgh chippys are unique in the UK for offering salt'n'sauce as standard in place of the salt'n'vinegar usually provided elsewhere in the country. The sauce is a kind of runny, vinegary version of HP or Daddys style brown sauce. Most chippys will provide vinegar on request if you prefer, but you really should try salt'n'sauce at least once!
There are establishments to suit all tastes scattered throughout every pocket of the city. Be careful, some of the more local pubs can be a little rough around the edges, especially in Leith.
For a non-alcoholic beverage give Scotland's second national drink a try - Irn-Bru . It's a great cure for hangover.
As for Scotland's first drink, you will find The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre  at the top of The Royal Mile, which offers an interactive "tour" of the history and practise of Whisky distilling. This is a good place to go if you want to sample whisky, as they have a very large selection (200+?) at reasonable rates. Older whiskys tend to cost more. The atmosphere is less pub-like than some might like as it tends to be fairly quiet - if you don't fancy the interactive tour and just want to try some whiskys then check the listings for some good whisky pubs. The food is reasonably priced and fairly good.
See the district articles for individual listings.
Edinburgh has been established as a tourist destination for centuries, and so there is a huge choice of accommodation available for travellers. If you're planning a visit during festival time (August), around Christmas and New Year, or on the weekend of a Scotland home game in the 6-nations Rugby  (Mar/Apr, 2 or 3 matches per year), then you will find that all types of accommodation get booked up well in advance, and a premium may be applied to the room-rate. It's not impossible to get somewhere to stay at short notice at these times, but you won't be able to be fussy and it will probably be expensive.
For those on a budget, there are cheap youth hostels available with prices from £10 and above. The private/independent hostels center around the Cowgate area, the lower Royal Mile and its side streets. The hostels of the HI affiliated Scottish Youth Hostel Association  can be booked on-line and are an especially good deal during summer, when the SYHA rents student accommodation as summer hostels: Single rooms in the city center for a very modest price.
Some of the Guest Houses and even hotels can be booked for as little as the hostels at certain times of year, while more upmarket accommodation ranges from boutique B&B's, with just a few rooms, lovingly run by a family, to world-renowned large 5-star hotels.
Multiple internet cafés and hotspot venues exist throughout Edinburgh, (check out district articles for details).
In general Edinburgh can be considered a safe destination for visitors but like all major cities it pays to remain attentive and use some common sense
Many countries run consulates in Edinburgh 
Most cash machines in Edinburgh dispense Scottish notes, but there are a few that usually have Bank of England notes, which may be convenient if you are leaving Scotland.